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EDITORIAL: Tragedy strikes and Bow Valley's somber relationship with bears

A terrible tragedy in the remote wilderness of Banff National Park has left two people, a dog, and a grizzly bear dead.
Cartoon by Patrick LaMontagne/

A terrible tragedy in the remote wilderness of Banff National Park has left two people, a dog, and a grizzly bear dead.

Over the weekend, shocking headlines popped up around the world after an old and skinny female grizzly attacked and killed two people and their dog, before it was shot and killed by wildlife officials. 

The gut-wrenching incident in our backyard has left many upset, saddened and seeking answers. 

The Outlook sends its condolences to family and friends affected by the sad event, as well as compassion to the emergency responders who witnessed the traumatic scene. 

Like a rose, the striking Rockies' wilderness also has its sharp thorns from underneath its petals. From newbies wearing sandals on long hikes to the most experienced backcountry experts, no one is immune from death and disaster in the unpredictable wild.

Bears, and how we interact with them, is a major topic in the Bow Valley. 

In recent weeks there has been a dead bear on the side of the highway, a bear being shot and killed after getting into fruit-bearing bushes and trees in Canmore, orphaned cubs, and a close eye is being kept on Bear No. 122 aka “The Boss”, the beloved patriarch of Banff grizzly bears, who had been feasting on fruit trees within Banff.

Following the tragic events of last weekend, now is perhaps the most important time for public education and removing wildlife attractants once and for all.

Canmore launched a human-wildlife coexistence survey on its website to create a plan moving forward with recommendations. In the survey, fruit trees, and solutions to have them removed from properties, are prominently noted.

Right now, the towns of Banff and Canmore offer financial incentives to get rid of fruit-bearing trees from properties. Yet, there is still a lack of education – or selfishness – that has kept some of these trees from being cut down and removed.

As a boy growing up in Ontario, every summer my family and I travelled to cottage country to spend lazy days by the lake. Boating and water tubing aside, one of my favourite things to do “up north” was the bi-weekly trip to the garbage dump. I know, it sounds strange. Very strange. But, there was a legitimate reason for my excitement to go because of the possibility I would see black bears, scavenging through plastic bags for their next meal.

The dump is just as it sounds. People drove to a semi-remote area in the woods with their household garbage and then tossed it onto a pile of other trash. This specific area the municipality had assigned as the dump was un-managed and ungated, and people could throw out whatever they wanted – including food scraps.

During nighttime, the dump was the place to be – it was more like a spectacle actually – with tons of vehicles filing into the sandlot, forming a line in front of the dumping area and shining bright headlights on the bruins crawling over the junk pile. People got outside of vehicles, walked around, approached the bears and then fed the hungry animals plates of french fries they had brought. As a small child, I walked among the people, a few feet away from the bears, wide-eyed and in awe of it all.

Every year since then when I remember back to it, I’m dumbfounded at how incredibly dangerous and stupid this parade of poor judgment was for the people and wildlife.

The municipality has a much better managed dump site now, with employees and a locked gate at the front.

However, one struggles to decipher the difference when looking back at that empty-headed activity from 30 years ago to modern day Bow Valley properties continuing to have fruit-bearing trees. Both are not very well thought out, include foolishness, and are setting up hungry bears and humans for failure. 

It is against the law in Banff and Canmore to let fruit and berries accumulate on bushes and trees on residential properties; however, gleaning them, and making sure it gets done, is not 100 per cent effective.

Should it be about time that new bylaws are put in effect for the permanent removal of fruit-bearing trees and bushes within Bow Valley municipalities?

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